LONDON, United Kingdom - Former UK prime minister Boris Johnson has claimed President Vladimir Putin threatened to target him with a missile attack before ordering Russian forces into Ukraine.
The apparent threat -- denied by the Kremlin -- came in a telephone call just ahead of the February 24 invasion, according to a BBC documentary to be broadcast on Monday.
Johnson and other Western leaders had been hurrying to Kyiv to show support for Ukraine and try to deter a Russian attack.
"He sort of threatened me at one point and said, 'Boris, I don't want to hurt you, but with a missile, it would only take a minute', or something like that," Johnson quoted Putin as saying.
The Kremlin on Monday, however, dismissed the accusation as a "lie".
"What Mr Johnson said is not true. More precisely it's a lie," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.
"Moreover, this is either a conscious lie -- then you need to ask Mr Johnson for what purpose he chose this version of events -- or it was unintentional and in fact he didn't understand what President Putin was talking to him about." Johnson emerged as one of the most impassioned Western backers of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
- 'Playing along' -
But prior to the invasion, he says he told Putin that there was no imminent prospect of Ukraine joining NATO, while warning him that any invasion would mean "more NATO, not less NATO" on Russia's borders.
"He said, 'Boris, you say that Ukraine is not going to join NATO any time soon.
"'What is any time soon?' And I said, 'well it's not going to join NATO for the foreseeable future. You know that perfectly well'." On the missile threat, Johnson added: "I think from the very relaxed tone that he was taking, the sort of air of detachment that he seemed to have, he was just playing along with my attempts to get him to negotiate." The BBC documentary charts the growing divide between the Russian leader and the West in the years before the invasion of Ukraine.
It also features Zelensky reflecting on his thwarted ambitions to join NATO prior to Russia's attack.
"If you know that tomorrow Russia will occupy Ukraine, why don't you give me something today I can stop it with?" he says.
"Or if you can't give it to me, then stop it yourself."